The grand jeté is one of ballet’s most rewarding steps, for both the audience and the dancer. The ability to propel oneself from one foot into the air, reach a perfect split, then land on the other foot, all while showing grace and ease in the upper body, is a hallmark of excellent ballet technique. However, I often see students sacrificing jump height to achieve perfect splits. To address this tendency, tell students to throw the leading leg first, as if hurdling over a barrel. Ask them to battement above 90 degrees upon takeoff—this will help them get air time rather than jumping straight forward, which gives an appearance of “flatlining” in the air.
Don’t overlook the grand jeté’s landing; in terms of student safety, it is the step’s most important aspect. Properly turned out placement of the standing leg is a must, as any turning in puts extra stress on the knee’s tendons.
Try this simple combination to help students develop correct landings. Start in tendu devant, traveling downstage, directly en face to the studio mirror. (This allows students to observe their own landings.) Chassé, grand jeté, and land in attitude derrière with the same arm in fifth and the other in à la seconde (two counts). Hold the attitude landing (four counts), then step back to tendu devant (two counts). Repeat on the other side. Once students can land on one leg, turned out and in control—no hopping or fidgeting—have them increase the height of the takeoff battement, but without sacrificing the amount of control they exhibited in the landing previously. This encourages them both to jump higher and to land with more control.Read More
“Artistry: Mystery vs Transparency”: When I saw Frederick Wiseman’s 1995 film Ballet listed in our October issue’s “Moving Images” department, memories of the hours I spent watching this documentary flooded back. The film is a unique perspective on the lives of artists, and in remembering it, I thought about the conversations teachers might have with students—conversations about artistry, how we perceive it, and what enhances or impairs those perceptions.
“Never Stop Dancing”: The hours I spend sitting at a desk make me feel creaky; a recent “big birthday” turned my thoughts to using my life stages wisely and well. Perhaps that’s why Keep Dancing, a lovely 2010 film portrait of then-90-year-old dance icons Marge Champion and Donald Saddler, has been on my mind.Read More
When My-Linh Le watches turfers at work, she sees the grace, fluidity, and balance of ballet—no small feat, considering that turfers often perform their style of street dance aboard San Francisco Bay Area BART trains, busking for donations in cramped and unsteady spaces. “Turfers tend to get [up] on their toes,” she says, “and they like to do spins.”
So it made sense to Le to combine ballet and turfing in a concert setting. In 2015, the Oakland, California–based dancer created Mud Water Theatre/Mud Water Project. Its eponymous multimedia dance theater piece united six ballet dancers from the Alonzo King Lines Ballet Training Program with six local turfers. The impetus was San Francisco’s Dance In Revolt(ing) Times (or D.I.R.T.) Festival, which presents choreography that has social justice themes. Le saw an opportunity to show that the two styles had more in common than people might think, that turfing was as deserving as ballet of a theater audience, and that by collaborating, the dancers could speak to social issues in an artistic way.Read More
Tip 1 In partnering classes, the first thing I tell male students is that their most important job is to make their partners look good. Only after their partners are comfortable and balanced should male dancers consider their own poses.
A male student should remember this rule even in simple exercises, such as a partnered piqué first arabesque from a B+ position with his hands on the female’s hips. In this case, he must watch her lower back and allow her to travel in piqué before he steps in behind to pose in tendu. If he poses first, and she travels more or less than he expects, he won’t be centered behind her, making both partners’ jobs harder. To be centered, the male dancer should place his standing leg next to hers as she piqués—imagining his standing leg and hers are the same—before assuming his pose.
Tip 2 I tell male students to keep their hands low on their partners’ hips—the lower the better.
To correct your students’ hand placement, tell them to rest their ring fingers on their partners’ hip bones and to use those fingers as balance points. This ensures the hands are low enough for the male dancer to make minor adjustments to his partner’s pelvis and keep her on balance. This placement also encourages a gentle touch, since the ring finger is the weakest finger and the male partner can’t squeeze very hard with it. If during partnering the male student continually reestablishes this grip, he’ll be able to move his partner’s whole pelvis with ease, instead of finding his hands riding up to her abdomen and lower ribs, a grip that makes his job much harder.Read More
The University of Utah School of Dance, in Salt Lake City, offers separate degree programs in ballet and modern dance and attracts students from across the world. While honoring the legacies of these two dance forms, which the University began offering more than 60 years ago, the school maintains an environment of open inquiry that encourages questioning, risk-taking, and sensitivity.Read More
Last month I wrote about useful music from operas. (See “2 Music Tips for Dance Teachers: Ballet Divertissements from Operas: Part 1,” November 2016.) Here are more examples.
Meyerbeer’s Robert le diable: Act 2’s “Pas de cinq” occurs during a medieval tournament. Use its light, bouncy tunes in 6/8 for ballonné, ballotté, and glissade jeté. Use its sections in 2/4 for petit battement, petit allegro, and pointe work. Act 3’s Ballet of the Nuns, the first Romantic ballet, or ballet blanc, starred Marie Taglioni dancing en pointe. Use “Seduction par le jeu,” a lively waltz with continuous eighth-note melodic movement, for pointe work at the barre, piqué turns, ronds de jambe en l’air, and bourrées. Use “Seduction par l’amour,” a 4/4 andante, for a lovely port de bras, slow warm-up, or easy-to-count développé exercise.
Gounod’s Faust: Act 5’s ballet takes place on Walpurgis Night, when the dead wander freely on earth. Balanchine used the music for Walpurgisnacht Ballet (1975). Use “Les Nubiennes” for a fondu, rond de jambe en l’air, or center-practice waltz; “Variations de Cléopâtre” for a strong tour en l’air; and “Variations du miroir” for tendu pirouettes in center.
Rossini’s William Tell: Act 1’s “Pas de six” and Act 3’s “Pas de trois,” both dances for Swiss peasants, contain two of my favorite pieces for petit battement or terre à terre allegro—the 2/4 allegrettos, with their constantly running 16th-note figures. I often combine them, especially for center. Act 3’s “Pas de soldats” begins with my favorite small jump music; its consistent upbeat lifts dancers into the air.
You can find these selections on the albums Meyerbeer: Ballet Music from the Operas (Nesterowicz/Barcelona Symphony Orchestra); Gounod: The 2 Symphonies, Faust Ballet Music (Marriner/Academy of St. Martin in the Fields); and Rossini/Donizetti: Ballet Music (Almeida/Orchestre National de l’Opéra de Monte-Carlo).Read More
Ballet divertissements featuring the corps de ballet, soloists, and small ensembles were integral to 19th-century grand opera productions. These musical interludes—occurring at Act 3’s beginning, or during Act 1—enhance the story by using tunes that illustrate the setting, depicting weddings (Rossini’s William Tell) and masked balls (Mozart’s Don Giovanni), and providing pauses from dramatic action.
Here are some useful examples.
Tip 1 Learning to complete a manège is important for advanced students. A manège involves many skills, including the ability to change your spot while traveling, plus sufficient stamina to do the steps correctly throughout.
Tip 2 Ingrain in your dancers the ability to reverse any simple center combination. Toward the week’s end, I often give a simple center tendu/dégagé combination after barre to make sure students are on balance and transferring weight correctly. I usually split them into two groups, as my combinations tend to travel. After the second group of dancers finishes, I have them immediately reverse the exercise. When they finish, I restart the music so the first group can reverse the exercise. I then allow all dancers a little time, usually 30 seconds, to correct their own mistakes before having each group repeat the reversed combination. This exercise trains students to reverse sequences by themselves, and quickly—valuable skills for any performer.
“Some teachers love laying choreography on 16-year-old dancers,” says Donna Rathe, owner of Tiny Dancers in Northern Virginia. “I love working with squirmy little 3-year-old boys and girls and getting them to understand first position and plié.”
Likewise, Tilly Abbe, who has been teaching ballet to little ones at Miss Tilly’s Ballet & Theater Arts in San Francisco for more than 40 years, likes the youngest students best and dislikes it when studio owners and teachers don’t take these children seriously. This is one of many points these two teachers agree on. “We don’t have 16-year-olds teaching 3-year-olds,” Rathe says. “It’s just as important to have a professional teaching a 3-year-old as it is to have a professional teaching a 16-year-old.”Read More
It’s awe-inspiring how quickly professional dancers can get into and out of pointe shoes. When I started teaching, I noticed that my students took a long time to put on their shoes—minutes that cut into valuable class or rehearsal time. So I created the “Two-Minute Drill.”
In fondu combinations at the barre that begin in fifth position—for example, en croix, battement fondu développé to 45 degrees, place toe on the floor in tendu, close in fifth—place extra emphasis on the footwork in moving from fifth to coupé in plié. This is a great opportunity to strengthen the feet. Ask students to visualize the toes of the working foot as an ice cream scoop. Then, instead of simply picking up the foot and placing it in coupé, they should imagine scooping ice cream from several inches below the floor. Not only does using this image guarantee that the feet will be completely pointed when they arrive in coupé, it also improves the strength and dexterity of the toes and the muscles in the soles of the feet.
Sometimes, ballet and recitals don’t mix. Except at ballet-only schools, including ballet numbers in a dance recital can be difficult, especially when they’re part of a parade of dances, all tied to a loose theme, in which dancers enter and exit the stage with military precision. And ballet pieces that are excerpted from longer works can be bland and difficult to comprehend, even if they’re danced well. If you offer ballet at your school, or if you teach ballet, the last thing you want to do is give audiences any reason to think ballet is boring.
So what do you do?Read More
“They don’t make tights for ugly people.”
That’s what Robin Gamble-Maddrey’s daughter, a student at Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH), said to her mother. And Gamble-Maddrey, who is African American, was brokenhearted to hear those words. “I saw the pain and the hurt,” she says. “She didn’t like to look at her body, and she would tell people, ‘I’m too dark.’ As a woman and a mother, that’s something you never want to hear from a young girl.”
The reason for the girl’s self-criticism? She couldn’t find tights and shoes that matched her skin tone. “I told her, ‘It’s not you; it’s not your fault,’ ” Gamble-Maddrey says. The incident led her to start a tights manufacturing company, Shades of Dance. “The first color I created was for [my daughter],” she says.Read More
Books of note (new and not)
1. The Night Before My Dance Recital
2.Bolshoi Confidential: Secrets of the Russian Ballet From the Rule of the Tsars to Today
3.Changing the Conversation: The 17 Principles of Conflict Resolution
4.The Ballet Lover’s Companion
For most ballet fans, the name George Balanchine is synonymous with American neoclassicism. It’s true that this great ballet icon is famous for revitalizing classical ballet in the 20th century—think Serenade, Agon, and Stravinsky Violin Concerto—but Balanchine also found inspiration in other dance styles, including popular entertainment.
After immigrating to the United States in 1933, Balanchine continued working in revues, variety shows, and the like for the next two decades, while founding the School of American Ballet and forming short-term companies that would evolve, in 1948, into New York City Ballet. His choreography for the popular stage and screen in the United States included 2 revues, 14 musicals, 4 operettas, 5 films, and a circus spectacle for 50 elephants.Read More
Most students look forward to the transition in the center from adagio and turns to jumps. It’s usually the most exciting part of class, and dancers are at their warmest, with legs and arms feeling their fullest range of motion, and hand-eye coordination in full effect.
When I create a grand allegro, several factors come into play. I include the theme I’ve been using that class, day, or week, so that students finish class with one more opportunity to think about it. I take into consideration how hard I’ve pushed the students in class and their remaining workload that day or week (rehearsals, performances, etc.), then adjust accordingly the combination’s length and difficulty level. Finally, I set the combination so that the final pose or step comes on a music accent.
Books of note (new and not)
1. Sweat, Tears, and Jazz Hands: The Official History of Show Choir from Vaudeville to Glee
2. How It Feels to Fly
3. My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights
4. Ballroom! Obsession and Passion Inside the World of Competitive Dance
Ludwig Minkus (1826–1917), a Vienna-born Czech who worked in both France and Russia, composed melodic, rhythmically clear, and uncomplicated ballet music, mostly in waltz rhythm. He excelled at giving each ballet an underlying mood, for example the passionate Spanish flavor of Don Quixote (1869) or the tragic atmosphere of La Bayadère (1877).
Both Don Quixote and La Bayadère—landmark achievements in Minkus’ long association with Marius Petipa—contain music that’s perfect for ballet class.
Attracting boys to dance has never been easy. It doesn’t matter that football players like Hall of Famer Lynn Swann or the New York Jets’ Steve McLendon took ballet and it improved their game, or that Lionel Messi looks like a ballet dancer when he shows how to control the soccer ball. With some exceptions—hip-hop is the most obvious—there are deep-rooted obstacles to getting boys into the studio.
. . . As Nikolai Kabaniaev at City Ballet School in San Francisco notes, “It’s not lucrative to have boys-only [classes] in this country.” He’s fortunate that his directors have made the commitment to “do whatever it takes.”
Along with City Ballet’s introductory dance classes for boys, there are other success stories that offer insight for studio owners who are trying, or hoping, to bring in the boys.Read More
Beginning a class with students facing the barre in first position is a common practice; I often do this after a long weekend or extended time off. Doing simple, slow tendus, stretches, and even a balance in first or second position with both hands on the barre allows students to internalize their focus and to find their center and “ballet muscles” before starting pliés.
I find one constant among students balancing at the barre: those who lift the supporting side and maintain an aligned position achieve longer and more productive balances. Other students try what I call a “gamble balance”: they begin correctly but then release the core and supporting side, and to compensate, make massive adjustments with the torso.
Ballet has always dwelled within the parameters of formality and rules, from its 16th-century Renaissance beginnings, through the court of Louis XIV, into its Russian legacy, and on to Balanchine’s American neoclassicism. A tendu is a tendu is a tendu, yet ballet has evolved into a dynamic, eclectic art form that reflects new attitudes and styles. Along with these adaptations, ballet training has slowly changed to provide a more anatomically streamlined approach, to allow for new concepts and cross-training methods, and to strive for inclusivity among students.
To keep 21st-century students literally on their toes, ballet teachers need to be creative. Here are some who have devised “outside of the box” training ideas that still respect tradition.Read More
When a barre combination includes multiple ronds de jambe, students frequently need to be reminded to draw a complete half circle on the floor with the working toe before starting the next rond de jambe.
Another mistake often seen in multiple ronds de jambe is cutting short the final one to close in fifth. To correct this, try giving one fewer rond de jambe than the music suggests.
If Houston Ballet’s Nutcracker Market is any example, things really are bigger in Texas. The annual fundraiser generated $6.5 million in gross revenue in 2015 and contributed $5 million to the company’s Foundation, which supports the general fund, academy, and scholarship programs.
Now in its 36th year, the Houston Ballet (HB) Nutcracker Market is a regional tradition that draws more than 100,000 visitors to the massive NRG Center. Along with shopping nearly 300 merchant booths filled with home decor, toys, crafts, and gourmet food, attendees can enjoy a preview party, fashion shows, and raffles.
A Nutcracker-themed market can be a fantastic fundraiser for local companies and small studios too, even when done on a fraction of the HB event’s scale. HB Nutcracker Market CEO Patsy Chapman and associate director Daisy Perez share their experience and tips for making any marketplace a very merry event.Read More
A stilt-walker surrounded by children, a contortionist amid a whirl of bourréeing ballerinas, a bevy of beauties lifting a clown—it’s a grand pas, Vegas style. Vegas, the wedding capital of the world, has united two unlikely partners: Nevada Ballet Theatre (NBT) and mega-producer Cirque du Soleil®. Each year since 2007, the two have joined forces to produce A Choreographers’ Showcase (ACS) at the 1,500-plus-seat Mystère Theatre at Treasure Island Hotel & Casino, creating buzz up and down the strip.Read More
“What will my child need?” may be the most common question studio owners are asked by new students’ parents. What style and color leotard? A ballet skirt or not? What about tap or jazz or hip-hop?
Some studio owners send customers to retail stores or fill clients’ needs from a stash in a supply closet. Others create small boutiques in the lobby or run full-inventory retail stores as part of or separate from the studio. Still others partner with dancewear suppliers that serve their clients and offer incentives to studios. Here, we take a look at both sides of that equation, with both dancewear companies and the studio owners who partner with them chiming in.Read More
I love walking into a studio where dancers are busy stretching quietly before class or rehearsal. Encourage students to leave conversations outside. When they pass through the studio door, they should enter a quiet and peaceful dance space.
When stretching the leg in devant on the barre, it’s helpful to think of keeping the supporting hip as close to the barre as possible and the working hip perpendicular to the barre. As dancers transition in devant from attitude to a fully extended leg, to relevé, to stretching the split, they must concentrate on keeping the legs crossed. The stretch should be felt equally in the supporting hip and the working inner thigh. Make sure students don’t add stress to the supporting knee by not pulling up or by leaving too much weight in the heel.
Where can you find a studio that offers hip-hop, ballet, Memphis jookin, tap, jazz, flamenco, African dance, Chinese dance, and modern dance classes—and that prioritizes heavily underserved students to boot? That rare distinction goes to Memphis, Tennessee, home of New Ballet Ensemble & School (NBE).Read More
After male students understand the basics of a partnered promenade (keeping the female dancer well balanced over her supporting leg, his hands as contact points on her hips), it’s time to work on their footwork in arabesque promenades.
In classical ballet pas de deux, the male dancer typically leads the female onstage in a hand-and-waist position. When entering, assuming starting positions, moving through transitions, or exiting, the male dancer “drives” when partners walk or run together. Younger dancers need to be told this early and often to avoid battles over which dancer leads.
August Bournonville created the three-act ballet Napoli in 1842, inspired by a trip to Italy with his close friend Hans Christian Andersen (whose diaries contributed to the libretto). In Naples, Bournonville stayed in the Santa Lucia port and swam in the gulf (the settings for Act 1), visited Capri’s Blue Grotto (Act 2), and visited the Monte Vergine shrine and danced the tarantella with peasants (Act 3). Bournonville assigned sections of the ballet’s score to four composers—Niels W. Gade (known as the father of Danish music), Edvard Helsted, Holger Simon Paulli, and Hans C. Lumbye—and he himself suggested several of the musical themes. Tip 2
Napoli’s score includes several dance/musical forms
From time to time, it helps to have students take off their flat shoes to start class. Try this after long breaks, or when students are doing lots of pointe work, or when you notice they’re not using foot muscles to the fullest.
By the time you give a rond de jambe combination, students should be well on their way to reaching their full warmed-up potential, and class should be at the 20- to 30-minute mark—the perfect time for a long stretch.
It was September 2013 and Kingston School of Dance was about to return home. During the previous four and a half years, the studio had set up shop three times in three different locations while its permanent location, the city-owned J.K. Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, was under renovation.
With the return to the Tett impending, KSD artistic director Ebon Gage says he wanted to “do something exciting” for the studio’s 250-plus families, who had remained loyal and patient through all the moving. He decided to produce an original ballet, and he turned to 14-year-old student Jillian Strathy to write it.Read More
Over the past quarter century, some of ballet’s most distinguished teachers have shaped the students of San Francisco Ballet School, among them Irina Jacobson, Lola de Avila, Jorge Esquivel, Antonio Castilla, Gloria Govrin, Jean-Yves Esquerre, and Edward Ellison. Recently, two other teachers joined that list: Pollyana Ribeiro, who became part of the full-time teaching staff in 2014; and Yannick Boquin, who chooses to guest teach exclusively. In February 2015, I watched both of them teach class, with a goal of discovering what they might add to the educational structure Patrick Armand, associate director of SF Ballet School (under the direction of artistic director Helgi Tomasson) is putting in place.Read More
There are two ways to do a grand cabriole fouetté sauté landing in arabesque, and the beginning of the jump is identical for both: a 90-degree battement devant upon takeoff. The dancer can either cabriole the leg devant, then fouetté and land in arabesque; or (the more advanced version) fouetté, then cabriole in arabesque before landing.
It’s critical for advanced students to be able to finish pirouettes en dehors in positions other than fourth-position lunge or fifth position. One-legged finishes, such as soutenu attitude derrière or devant, showcase a dancer’s balance, control, and strength.
“Reality Check: Must. Do. Ballet”: Q: Who makes ballet mandatory in order to take jazz? I am trying to implement this in my program this year and I have an older student who hasn’t had ballet in a few years and does not want to take it. Do I grandfather her in and let her just take jazz? Or make it mandatory for everyone?
“Classroom Connection: Stories That Move”: Whether you teach a parent/child class, creative movement for preschoolers, or pre-ballet for kindergarteners, starting your youngest kids’ classes with a book can be calming and inspiring at the same time.Read More
The first Romantic ballet, La Sylphide, a two-act ballet set in Scotland, depicts a love triangle between James, a farmer; Effie, his fiancée; and a sylph, or forest spirit. Torn between real and fantasy loves, James chooses fantasy, with tragic results. The ballet premiered in 1832 in Paris to acclaim, with Filippo Taglioni’s choreography showcasing his daughter Marie as the sylph. Jean-Madeleine Schneitzhoeffer’s score, with its lilting 6/8 rhythms and buoyant 2/4 variations, especially for the female leads, lends itself to petit allegro—ballonnés, pas de bourrées, brisés, and cabrioles.
Rhythmic and melodic features of Scottish Highland dances (which both Taglioni and Bournonville studied) appear in both La Sylphide scores. The Highland spirit is best captured in Løvenskjold’s Act 1 reel, based on the traditional tune “McDonald’s Reel”—perfect in class for dégagés, petits battements, and petit allegro.
Dance is big in Japan. Ballet was introduced in Japan in the 1910s by Russian émigrés, and in the 1920s and ’30s Japanese dancers brought German expressionist modern dance back from Europe. After World War II, American modern dance influences took hold in Japan; more recently hip-hop has folded itself comfortably into Japanese culture.Read More
Coppélia (1870), staged in Paris two months before the Franco-Prussian War broke out, is considered the last Romantic ballet. A collaboration between choreographer Arthur Saint-Léon, librettist Charles Nuitter, and composer Léo Delibes, it tells a comic story of a village couple, Swanilda and Franz, and a mysterious doll maker, Dr. Coppélius.
Delibes incorporated several national dances, all the rage then in Paris, into Coppélia’s score, setting a precedent for future ballet composers.
Tombé pas de bourrée is one of classical ballet’s most common connecting steps, and it lends itself to all forms of center work. Yet its importance is often overlooked, and it can wind up being a combination’s sloppiest-looking step. Students may spend most of their mental energy on preparing for the trick that follows the tombé pas de bourrée, forgetting that in dance, every step counts.
Graduating from changements to royales can leave even the most talented students feeling “toe-tied.” A simple way for them to feel the correct sensation in a royale is to break down the step.